By Scott Williams
STEVENS POINT – University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point goalie Connor Ryckman laid sprawled on his stomach from one post to the other in his crease.
Ryckman was doing everything in his power to keep the puck out of the net as the seconds wound down and UW-Eau Claire mounted one final push to force overtime.
Bodies were scattered all around the UWSP goal. Nerves were running high.
A Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament title, and quite likely some monstrous NCAA ramifications, were on the line.
Ryckman was able to keep the puck out of the net and the top-ranked Pointers found a way to continue its remarkable run this season with a hard-nosed 3-2 win over Eau Claire at a jam-packed K.B. Willett Arena on Saturday night.
“It wasn’t about the WIAC championship. It was about being better than we were last time and getting prepared before the NCAAs,” UWSP coach Tyler Krueger said. “We need to be in some tight games.”
Now the Pointers will have to play a waiting game to find out their NCAA postseason fate.
The selection show will take place Monday at 9:30 a.m. There is belief within the Pointers’ locker room that they could be in line to host a quarterfinal game.
With the win over the Blugolds – the third of the season – the Pointers ran their winning streak to 20 straight games.
Unbeaten in 28 games this season the Pointers (26-0-2) have now tied the school record for an unbeaten stretch set in 1989-90.
Having reached the WIAC tournament title game five successive years, the title was the third for UWSP over that span.
“Every game is a new challenge for us. Every game is an opportunity to show how we can play. We found a way in the end,” Stevens Point senior defenseman Stephan Beauvais said. “They beat us last year in this thing and we didn’t forget that.”
Nothing separated the WIAC rivals through two periods which ended with the score deadlocked at 2-2.
Unlike the first two meetings won by the Pointers 3-1 and 7-1, ninth-ranked Eau Claire gave them their best shot Saturday.
With goals and quality scoring chances tough to come by, it only seemed fitting that a strange goal would prove to be the difference.
Danny Kiraly joined a UWSP rush up the ice late in the final period. His intent was to pass the puck. Instead, the puck hit a Blugold defenseman scrambling to get back in the and snuck past goalie Zach Dyment to put UWSP up 3-2 with 6:36 left in regulation.
“I just got the puck on net. I was trying to look backdoor for a teammate. I guess it kicked off the defenseman’s skate and trickled into the net. I got real fortunate on that one,” Kiraly explained.
Arguably no one stepped up for the Pointers more than Ryckman. The sophomore netminder showed why he was the conference Player of the Year.
He was called upon to make a couple game-changing plays in breakaway scoring chances by Eau Claire, including a huge save early in the third period.
Ryckman, who stopped 27 shots, was at his best when the Pointers needed to kill off penalties. Despite often having heavy traffic in front of him, he tracked the puck well and prevented the Blugolds from gaining any momentum.
“That guy is a stud, man. He was huge tonight just like he always is. He’s been playing great,” Beauvais said. “We play with so much confidence with having him in net back there. We know that if we do make a mistake, there is a good chance our goaltender will come up and make a play for us.”
Steven Quagliata and Carter Roos tallied power-play goals for the Pointers in the opening period.
Adam McGlynn and former Wausau West athlete Adam Parsells found the back of the net for Eau Claire.
In the end, the Pointers found yet another way to keep their historic run alive.
“We said going into the third period we have to put pucks on net. It doesn’t have to be the pretty goal. It doesn’t matter how it goes in,” Krueger said. “It’s how the game set up for a goal to end the game. It was only fitting that type of goal ends it.
“It was a battle. The guys responded. There were lots of ups and down. There were a lot of emotions in that game. We have to trust we’re going to make the big plays down the stretch.”
WIAC Men’s Hockey Championship
Pointers 3, Blugolds 2
Eau Claire 1 1 0 – 2
Stevens Point 2 0 1 – 3
First period: 1. SP, Steven Quagliata (Colin Raver), 9:38 (pp); 2. EC, Andrew McGlynn (Lucas Kohls), 13:19; 3. SP, Carter Roo (Danny Kiraly, Drew McLean), 19:13 (pp).
Second period: 4. EC, Adam Parsella (Jake Bresser), 4:20 (pp).
Third period: 5. SP, Kiraly, 13:24.
Saves: Eau Claire (Zach Dyment) 23; Stevens Point (Connor Ryckman) 27.
Records: UW-Stevens Point 26-0-2; UW-Eau Claire 19-7-2.